Tiffany Girvin, a buser, said, “And vegetarianism.”
“Yeah, we talk about that a lot,” Kleinsorge said.
“We’ve been talking lately about war and the possibility of war,” Girvin said.
Shane Rilling, a server, said, “Yeah, what’s your views on war? We’ve got to get some of the Republicans out here.”
“We talk about the school systems,” Amanda Dowd, also a server, said. “We talk about things we read in the paper. We’re all very dynamic individuals, so there’s a lot going on.”
“And we spend about three minutes talking about the menu,” said Stebner. “And we spend about 30 seconds talking about any important people that are coming in for dinner, but we usually wait till the last minute to do that.”
Almost everyone at the table, with the exception of Kleinsorge, had worked at the restaurant for the past year and a half.
I asked what was the best thing about working at Nine-Ten.
“Food!” said Kleinsorge.
“The people we work with,” said Dowd.
“I think what makes it different is that we learn a lot about the business and food,” Girvin said. “That’s the biggest thing I noticed when I started here. You just learn something new every day.”
All had worked in restaurants before. Johnson mumbled, “Unfortunately, yes.” He said he was just kidding, but Dowd said, “There aren’t many restaurant jobs that are as good as this.”
Kleinsorge concurred: “That’s true. Turnover in most of the restaurants is high. Here it seems like everyone comes to stay. They like their jobs.”
Rilling said, “I think the coolest thing, like she [pointing to Girvin] was saying, is that you’re always learning. Everyone here is dedicated to one’s progress. ’Cause a lot of places, you can come in on a set menu, learn the menu, learn the wines by the glass, stay there, and never progress at all. But it seems like we switch the wine list pretty frequently, and it seems like everyone has a passion for learning about the wine and food. Like when I started, I could go up to almost anyone above me and ask them, ‘What does this taste like? What’s it good with? Where’s it come from?’ So I was able to learn from a lot of people and just keep on learning, and everyone kind of helps each other. It’s cool. It makes it fun, instead of just coming to work and doing the same thing.”
I inquired about the hours they work.
“Thirty-five,” said Johnson.
“Twenty,” said Girvin.
“During the day, I bartend, and a couple of nights a week, I expedite,” said Kleinsorge.
“Thirty-five,” said Dowd.
“I take two days off a week,” Stebner said. “I try to work under 12 hours a day, which is not a lot for a chef.” Stebner said he lived with his wife and one-and-a-half-year-old son.
Everyone at the table, other than Stebner, had come to San Diego to attend college. I asked the students if they planned to work in the restaurant business in the future.
“I will definitely own a restaurant,” said Johnson.
Rilling said he didn’t want to own a restaurant, and Kleinsorge said, “I don’t know if I would want to own a restaurant either. Unless it was international; then I would.”
Johnson continued, “I’ve been working in restaurants since I was 16 years old. It’s all I really know. Even though I want to go further, the restaurant’s where I can make my money. Then I can eventually graduate on to other things.”
“It’s definitely good money,” Kleinsorge said. “None of us are really studying culinary aspects. I study economics, Scott’s political science, Shane’s biology.”
How did they get along when it was busy and stressful?
“Just make sure you don’t make the chef mad,” Johnson said.
“Just do whatever you have to do,” Rilling added.
“In the four months that I’ve been here, it’s never really gotten to the point where it’s escalated to extreme high-stress level,” Kleinsorge said. “I mean, I think that everything is run very well here. I haven’t seen anything yet, but I’m sure you have stories.”
“There are very definitely tiffs and issues and stress-related problems,” said Girvin, “but you have to finally realize that’s what you’re being paid for.”
“In everyday stress,” said Rilling, “when you do have an argument with somebody, you just have to say it’s just another day and you have a job to do, execute it, and that’s that.”
On the flip side, they went on and on about the positive aspects of their jobs.
“I like it that the chefs make it known when you’re appreciated,” said Dowd. “Like, I’ve worked in other places where appreciation’s never shown, and it’s just really obvious here.”
“I’ll second that,” Kleinsorge said.
“Along those lines,” said Rilling, “I felt at other restaurants, managers were trying to run the place by fear and punishment. ‘You better do a good job or else.’ Whereas here: ‘We want you to do a good job, and we’ll help you if you can’t. We’ll help you learn.’ So it’s more respectful between people, as opposed to treating someone like a subordinate, which is really nice.”
“I think we are the best restaurant serving the best food in Southern California,” said Johnson.
“People ask us, ‘What’s good tonight? What’s the best thing here?’ ” Dowd said. “It’s funny, because you sound like a broken record, but everything is phenomenal. Truly, everything is delicious. And I say to my table, ‘I know it sounds like a cliché to sit here and tell you that everything is delicious, but I feel the utmost pride in what I am going to serve to each person.’ I’m never afraid that they’re not going to like it. I’m never afraid that they’re going to send it back. Or that it’s going to have a hair in it, or that it’s going to be undercooked. None of that is an issue. And I’ve been working in restaurants since I was, like, 17, serving, and people would ask you, ‘What’s good?’ and you’d be, like, ‘Nothing.’ Truly. You try to pick and choose from the worst. Here there’ll be things on the menu that are brand new, and I tell them, ‘You have to try this. You will cry it’s so good.’ And people will get it and say, ‘Oh my God, you’re right.’ ”